True feminism behind the bad ass womenswear label MAYA LI
“For me, a real strong women is able to hide her strength/ power and use it to her needs”- Maya Li, Designer
In today’s era, millennials have the mindset that they can be what they want to be, whatever and whenever (to some extent of course). In addition to the rise of the feminist movement (especially coming into fashion with Dior’s collection “We should all be feminists”), I recently had the opportunity of meeting the #GirlBosses behind the upcoming label, MAYA LI; Xi Xie (Cece),co-founder of the brand, who used to be in the management consulting arena and United Nations and Wen Li(Maya) , designer/co-founder, who was an architect major student turned designer, have teamed up to create a bad ass womenswear brand geared to the everyday cosmopolite working women, elegantly combining smarts and sexiness together. You don’t need to have a tough look in order to be rise up in the workplace, instead showcasing your asset of being a woman in a sexy but smart look is the new feminism.
Feminism: The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities – Forbes
First off, let me introduce you to the power duo I met in between jumbo foie gras burgers, mojitos, coffee, and a (belly sucking) fitting. We spoke about feminism, the strategy behind the brand, its style, to what it takes to land a serious business negotiation being a women in 2017.
FW17 Girls wearing Maya Li Menswear – Campaign
Meeting designer, Maya at the studio, things were a bit frenetic, but don’t be fooled by her short term memory and awesome creative flow, Maya focuses on apparel which accentuates the women’s body and structure “ I make clothes for the everyday women, I don’t want to do over – embellishments and because of my mathematical background, I don’t have a very romantic style, you especially won’t see any of ruffles in my collection” she says.“ Using rationality to create a good balance between the feminine and masculine though the manipulation of structures, textiles and design of the collection is really important.”
The Spring/Summer 2017 collection through the theme “Gear System”, shows off definite strength and confidence, there are also many different ways of styling one item where an oversized or longer looking item can easily be adjusted with zippers, bands, and puzzle like details, creativity and open mindedness is needed to endorse some of the pieces.
SS17 Womenswear Campaign
For what concerns the evolution of their collection, Maya is now exploring more and more her personal identity and how to reflect it within the brand. Having to balance between commercial sales, buyers, media, customers and her personal aesthetics, she’s slowly discovering signature products/ items that she’ll use to further emphasize the image of MAYA LI, moreover, deconstruction in her pieces and mixing the rough with the elegant is already a strong reflection of her personal philosophy , “ I want independent mature women ，in their mid-thirties, to recognize the work and design behind the apparel, this women both has the brand value comprehension, strong sense, and purchasing power where she will say “ I want to wear it“”.
“The customer TA that I really strive for in the future have similar characteristics to the brands customers I’ve worked for in the past such as Alexander McQueen and Balmain. Although both of the brands have changed in the past decade (and not for the better), I was working with them during their earlier stages, over ten years ago, where their women clientele (at the time) was very precise; excellent designs attract specific people, the elite. Their customers had their freedom of style with bold confidence, -I’m strong but I’m also a woman, I want to show off my waist and my legs, emphasizing the female figure, letting people know that one can be sexy and strong at the same time, I have responsibilities where I can excel in them, and breaking the barrier than men are better than women, hence striving for equality through flaunting one’s own assets- feminism.”
For an emerging brand like MAYA LI’s, already attaining a strong client base of mid-thirties range with a good purchasing power is very promising (anyone in PR/Sales industry would agree), as they’re one of the hardest targets to attain and create conversion. This type of customer base (especially in China’s first tier cities) are renown to be highly demanding, picky, and customer service driven. In general, these women already know what they want, the styles they need and what fits them, they’re also ready to buy and prone to become more loyal than the millennial era who follow fast trends on a much deeper level.
Currently the brand operates through their e-commerce channel whilst having physical distribution channels that are located in high end city centers of China. As for the foreign market, they have been working with boutique shops and e-commerce websites in England and some other European countries. They present during Shanghai and Paris Fashion Week whilst always focusing on their core market being China.
“I really hope that more and more consumers will be able to understand the value behind our brand, especially when they feel the product.” says Maya. The label heavily invests in quality imported materials in order to create high value and strong cost to wear ratio. Moreover, most pieces can easily transition themselves between daytime office wear and after work with very little accessories or styling needed to change the look.
When asking Maya about her branding, she shares an engrained behavior of China’s mature consumers “We need that china’s target consumer first accepts the look and the style of our brand. Our apparel is quite mature, as we know the general mass love to dress up in that cute type of look to appear younger, but now there’s also a demand for a stronger modern and edgier look. Hence for us, it’s best to combine mature outfits with a cuter, sexier or even naughty look in this case to balance the image; youthful women, playful but minimal accessories and strong styling for our campaigns create the vision that both a younger or mature audience can wear the look.”
Feminism being a core part of Maya’s concept, she thinks of intricate details, structure, lining and what happens inside the garment rather than only its exterior to reach both comfort and feel in the garment, not only appearance. Her understated style/designs is a result of Maya’s background in architecture design and her work experience with luxury conglomerates in earlier years turning her into a cultured designer standing behind the feminism movement.
“I come from a pattern cutting background, where emphasis on structure and fit is really important…..wait where was I!? Sorry I only have a seven second memory span” she laughs, losing her train of thought in the creative space as Cece, her partner, puts her back on track, “oohh yes, in terms of trends I think fit is above all important, but currently everyone is going back to the 80’s look. We’re using a lot of chunky silhouettes for this season to interpret the era, smart embroidery, minimalism, with subtle Chinese characteristics are also some elements we’ll be incorporating” she continues…
FW17 Womenswear Campaign
“Although we’re having this feminist movement (especially LGBT community etc…), I think the most important thing is really to equalize treatment of gender and just do our best in what we do now, strive for excellence. “This girl is really strong because of her skillset” and this is what’s important, not according to gender, but more like survival of the fittest.” Maya explains.
“I really hope that through wearing MAYA LI, women can feel more empowered whether it being at the work place, through business negotiations to even being on a date or with friends. It’s easy maybe for us to say because we work in fashion, where most people are women, but if we step out and go into finance, politics, industrial production etc, the game is still relatively unequal, where we hope us as millennials can eventually change this.” concludes Cece
“Feminists can wear whatever they want. If we cannot choose freely how to behave, speak, act and present ourselves, then we’re moving backwards – #BEBOLDFORCHANGE.”-Forbes
E-Commerce: MAYA LI TAOBAO Link
Photos of Yanie by Alex deLarge and Eugene Barl, campaign photos courtesy of MAYA LI